March 3, 2017, by Tony Hong

Planting State Messages in the Chunwan

By Dr. Zhengxu Wang,

Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

Chunwan, or the Spring Festival Gala, refers to the annual show staged by CCTV (Chinese Central Television) at Chinese New Year’s Eve. It has run since the early 1980s. Through the years its content, style, and much else have, of course, changed greatly, but the basic format remains. In recent years, it has also become a subject of mockery among some sections of the population, as they see some or all of its content too political charged.

One controversy was that of plant-in advertisements. Characters in a mini-drama (xiaoping), for example, may show the debit card of a certain bank. A cross-talk show might mention the name of an internet search engine. This tactic for TV to harvest a great amount of money went to such a disgusting degree that viewers complained heavily. After 2012, however, it appears that television studios were banned, apparently by the upper authorities, from planting advertisements into the show.

It appears the new leadership i.e. Xi Jinping the new leader of the party-state, disliked the practice and banned it. A change for the good, for sure – however, the show has become more political after Xi’s leadership settled in, but that is another matter.

This year’s show, I noticed, continued to exclude explicit references to any commercial entities or brands. But I also noted the show was trying to strike hard on two messages. The first is the urge for families and young couples to aim for two babies at home, echoing the state’s recent population planning policy change that allows two births for each couple. The other, which is less noted by observers, is that the show appeared to include a reference to the insurance industry.

If we believe the state indeed planted this message in the show purposely, we must provide the reasons to why the state wanted to do so. The answer can be easily found. The state indeed has many reasons to promote the (domestic) insurance business.

For one, throughout 2016, capital flight has plagued the economy. One form this flight took was that households around the country, especially in the rich eastern provinces, sent money overseas, including Hong Kong, to purchase insurance policies. This went so bad (from the state’s perspective), that toward the last quarter of the year, the state banned such transactions outright. This writer was to pay his annul premium of a policy obtained many years ago at an overseas location, but was stopped from doing so at the bank counter. Among other things, the state has to find ways to keep capital inside China. Hence the state effort to promote the domestic insurance business.

This might have answered the question of why. But I am yet to work out an answer to the question of how. It is well-known that the Party’s central propaganda department reviews the show many times before it goes out live, to ensure the show is politically correct – called censorship. But existent evidence fails to show how the state/party plans to implements ideological/policy lines of the show, not that I am aware of anyway.

Through what process is the decision made regarding what messages are to be planted in the show? Which state/party agency is tasked to communicate such a decision to the show planners, and to do that at which junction of the planning/staging process? Despite my knowledge of how the state/political system works, I still want an answer to these questions. A possible subject for my next blog.

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